Fact Check This


Seek the truth and report it. That’s the core of journalism.

But the truth needs to be checked — fact checked. And when you don’t….. well, just ask the folks at This American Life.

Last January, This American Life aired a program called “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” It featured the story of actor Mike Daisey who traveled to China to see, first hand, work conditions for employees at Foxconn, a manufacturer of components for Apple computers.

Two months later, TAL aired an hour-long retraction of that story. In short, TAL failed to fully check Daisey’s account of what he claimed he saw in China. As part of the retraction, they pinpointed Daisey’s fabrications and apologized.

To be clear, Daisey’s assertions about the conditions at the plant are accurate. His personal story wasn’t. And that, in turn, calls into question the veracity of everything he said.

It also raises the question: What is fact checking?

On this edition of HowSound, no story. Instead, I speak with long-time journalist John Dinges. John teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism where he’s the head of the radio department. John also worked at NPR for many years serving as Deputy Foreign Editor and the Managing Editor for News. Let’s just say John knows his way around fact checking.

For more reading on the subject of fact checking, John recommends The Elements of Journalism by Kovach and Rosenstiel.

And, I’ve cobbled together several articles and programs about the TAL/Daisey dust-up. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it should flesh out the details of what happened.

Brian Lehrer Show

On the Media

National Public Radio

Poynter Institute

Another fromĀ  Poynter

Nieman Labs

The Atlantic Monthly

The National Review


And this from Science 2.0. It’s slightly off topic but still enlightening.


Study up. There’s a test on Monday.



2 comments to Fact Check This

  • It’s also pertinent to point out that Mike Daisey isn’t a joiaurlnst, and that the work he made wasn’t a piece of journalism. You wouldn’t present your fictions as fact, John; that’s exactly what Daisey did. When he told his audiences, other joiaurlnsts and the media, without a trace of ambiguity, that everything he told them was factually true, he transgressed the ethics of theatre as well as that of journalism. Theatre has its own ethic of truthfulness, but it’s entirely different from that of journalism; you see it in something like King Lear, which is truthful although it doesn’t pretend to one ounce of fact. Daisey’s done nobody any favours: not those he purported to help, not himself, and certainly not theatre. Journalism’s probably come out of it better than anything else.

  • pilcrow

    According to John Dinges, the strongest evidence that a source is telling the truth is that said source is saying something counter to his own interest. In most cases this is undoubtedly true, but how then can one account for all the false confessions that have sent people to prison for long terms?

    Many years ago I heard that a good detective, knowing of this phenomenon, would get the suspect to prove the truth of his confession. Obviously, the detective would realize that accepting a false confession would have two unacceptable results: an innocent person goes to jail, but also a guilty person gets away. I guess that good detectives are exceedingly rare.

    By the way, I have always used Mr Dinges’ criterion when reading books.

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